Since the proposed e-discovery updates to the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure were introduced in mid-2006, much ink has been spent
describing an impending dramatic e-discovery revolution in litigation. Although
federal litigation has been impacted, has the e-discovery revolution even come
to state court practice, more than two years later? In my experience, the
answer is “yes,” but e-discovery has impacted our state practice in a subtle,
not dramatic fashion.
Many practitioners by now are aware of the e-discovery
rules as contained in the FRCP. As a quick recap, all potential litigants are
under an affirmative duty to preserve relevant electronic stored information
(“ESI”), which can be contained in virtually every device powered by
electricity. To complicate matters for our clients, technical preparation needs
to be in place well in advance of the first “e-discovery” lawsuit to prevent
the destruction or modification of ESI. Although these preparations can
probably only be implemented by the organization’s IT department and in-house
counsel, defense counsel can be deemed responsible for the identification and
preservation of ESI under the federal rules.
The federal case law preceding and following the
enactment of the revised FRCP has turned out to be dramatic indeed. The federal
courts have leveled hefty financial sanctions at companies, defense counsel and
individual litigants themselves for a failure to ensure that relevant data
either was not destroyed by human hand or automatic computer processes. In addition,
the federal courts have issued spoliation jury charges, which can be fatal to a
case by allowing the jury to assume a cover-up took place.
In contrast, things seem quiet on the state practice
level. I am unaware of any Massachusetts case law yet concerning a hardcore
e-discovery spoliation dispute leading to sanctions or an adverse jury
inference. That being said, electronic documents are being used more on the state
Moreover, the Massachusetts Superior Court recently
issued Standing Order 1-09 that places affirmative e-discovery burdens on
parties responding to routine document production requests. Under Part 3 (c) of
the standing order, responding parties have to specify which “electronic
storage locations” they searched or excluded from their search in response to every request
The change in state litigation also will continue to come
from, of all places, our clients. Our clients increasingly use e-mail and
scanned documents in lieu of traditional correspondence. They are in the midst
of converting their own offices to paperless environments because of the costs
savings. The costs of large-scale paper storage and production can often be
reduced to a fraction by implementing electronic records storage.
Also, many industries are implementing paperless
solutions for the benefits of increased efficiencies of documentation and
reliability. In my firm’s own practice area, medical malpractice defense,
health care institutions are in the midst of implementing e-prescribing
systems, electronic order entry, electronic health records, patient portals and
the personal health record. The drive behind implementing these applications is
not primarily cost, but better quality of care.
Increasingly, when we turn to our clients for responsive
documents to discovery requests, it is they who come back to us with e-mail
correspondence and discs containing .pdfs or .tiffs.
It is only a matter of time before opposing counsel is no
longer satisfied during the discovery phase with the electronic documents
purely in the form that we have produced them in. Disputes will inevitably turn
to questions about how the underlying electronic information is created, modified,
stored and destroyed — questions that get at the underlying reliability of the
produced electronic records.
Counsel also will increasingly find
themselves in the position of trying to have electronic records admitted
into evidence for their client’s benefit. The authentication of electronically
stored information may require digging into the system and application
metadata, the hidden log files that may tell us who did what, when and to which
electronic document. Both sides will want access to this information to make
arguments for and against the reliability and authenticity of an electronic
When the e-discovery rules came down in late 2006,
commentators expected that the rules would have a dramatic effect on the
litigation landscape beyond the federal courts. It has turned out so far that
on the state level, e-discovery has entered the scene more like a silent
revolution. Is your practice prepared?
Chad P. Brouillard is an associate at Bloom & Buell in Boston. He represents clients in medical malpractice cases and before the Board of Registration in Medicine. Brouillard is a chair of the Associates Division for the Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association and e-discovery liaison for the Defense Research Institute’s Medical Liability Committee.